October has now left us and we have gone through a blizzard of pink on the playing fields of the NFL.
Celebrities have spoken of breast cancer awareness and pink t-shirts and ribbons seem to be everywhere. The National Breast Cancer Foundation has done a fantastic job of building awareness and fundraising for research. So much so that the survival rate for breast cancer is now at 89%.
Other colors and cancers have not done so well. Pearl is the color for lung cancer and November is Lung Cancer awareness month. You will not see any professional athletes with pearl or white ribbons on their jerseys. You probably won’t even see a published article or a mention on local news. Yet lung cancer kills more people annually in the US than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined.
In New Mexico in 2016 1,050 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer. This year 790 people will die of the disease. That is a mere 20 percent survival rate. In fact all cancers combined will claim the lives of 3,690 people, the 790 lung cancer deaths will account for 22 percent of all deaths in New Mexico. Almost one third!
Why you may ask. Just like any cancer, or disease for that matter, it’s awareness and research dollars. For lung cancer it is awareness not only on the patient side but also that of primary care givers. My sister, Annette Leger (49 at the time), for example was treated for bronchitis and asthma for a year before she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2010. She subsequently passed away in August of 2012. Ashley Rivas (32 at the time) is another example.
Ashley is a radiologist technician who was also treated for bronchitis for several months. She finally took it upon herself do her own chest ex-ray. Although a spot was evident she was told it was nothing. She subsequently took another ex-ray that showed growth. Fortunately for Ashley, one of the few, One third of her lung was removed and she is presently cancer free. Both of these women never smoked.
So what is the difference in awareness? Women are advised to have a mammogram every two years after the age of 40, although this is currently being debated, where as only heavy smokers after the age of 60 are allowed by insurance companies and Medicaid to have a chest CT-scan!
Research dollars are another big problem for lung cancer patients or the treatment of lung cancer. Just look at the numbers. Annually for every breast cancer death the federal government provides $19,691 in research funding. For every lung cancer death that amount is $1,674. This disparity carries over to private fund raising for research as well. And it is more than evident in the survival numbers 89% for breast cancer diagnosis versus just about 17% for lung cancer.
These are startling facts that affect peoples lives, their families and friends everyday. November is lung cancer awareness month and that is the purpose of this letter. Again you will see no parade of pearls or celebrities campaigning to require more chest x-rays. If you or somebody you know has a persistent cough be aware of the symptoms and insist on a chest x-ray. Finally you can help through Free to Breathe, the only national organization dedicated solely to lung cancer research and awareness. I am the chairman of the local Albuquerque Free to Breathe Bike and Yoga Event.
Our event is slated for April 2, 2017. Form a team, donate or just spread the word. Our Web site is freetobreathe.org/Albuquerque. More than anything else be aware of the dangers of lung cancer.
Remember if you have lungs you can get lung cancer!